A Chameleon by Anton Chekhov
In A Chameleon by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of identity, control, prejudice, class and corruption. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of identity. No one appears to know who owns the dog and her ownership changes throughout the story with everyone guessing about who might own her. It is only on discovery that the General’s brother owns the dog that matters are resolved to Otchumyelov’s liking. What is interesting about the discovery of the dog’s ownership is the fact that Otchumyelov’s opinion of what should be done is based on the social class of the dog’s owner. This is the sole driving factor and motivator for Otchumyelov’s actions. He is an able and keen assistant to Hryukin’s cries for justice when it is considered that the dog does not belong to someone of the upper classes. That being someone who is higher on the social class ladder in comparison to Otchumyelov. However once Otchumyelov discovers that the dog is the General’s brother’s he dismisses Hryukin.
The theme of control is self-evident in the story. Otchumyelov is in complete control of the situation he finds himself in. However what occurs is a farce. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. Through the characterization of Otchumyelov Chekhov may be suggesting that those in authority need to reassess how they perceive the world. As mentioned Otchumyelov’s barometer when it comes to judgement is based on social class not on any real form of justice. Though it is difficult to be certain about what happened between Hryukin and the dog. Hryukin still needs to be heard. His voice is not recognized by Otchumyelov due to his own personal prejudices overriding his professionalism as a policeman. It is also a fact that Otchumyelov believes in the status quo remaining as it is. The reader aware that Otchumyelov is taking no action against the dog or her owner. This may be significant as it is possible that Otchumyelov is afraid of those who are a class above him. It is as though he will not question authority. Which makes him a suitable but corrupt policeman. In the eyes of the law everyone is equal but not for Otchumyelov.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. In many ways the description of the dog mirrors Otchumyelov’s position with those above him socially and professionally. He is as submissive as the dog when it comes to matters. The dog herself may symbolise the lower classes and the fact she might have been stubbed with a lit cigarette may suggest that a light is being shone on the lower classes. They are fighting back just as the dog has fought back and bitten Hryukin. Otchumyelov’s certainty at times that the dog is guilty and his attempted actions (strangle the dog) suggest that Otchumyelov is acting as both judge and jury. As well as being a policeman. If anything Otchumyelov is acting as though he is corrupt. Taking on three separate roles when the reality is he is only a policeman. This is the position in which he should be acting rather than as a judge and jury.
The end of the story is also interesting. Despite there being a resolution Hryukin remains unhappy. He knows that he has not been treated fairly but again it is difficult to judge. It is possible that Hryukin may have hit the dog who in turn bit Hryukin. There are no witnesses to what has happened and those who pass remark on the matter are also difficult to judge as Chekhov gives the reader little or no information about each character in the story. The facts are simply what has been presented to the reader. It is left for each individual reader to judge for themselves as to whether Hryukin was attacked by the dog or did he provoke the dog as some people in the crowd suggest. It is for this reason that the story is more interesting. Chekhov is allowing for the reader to become a participant in the story. To act as Otchumyelov might act or to look deeper into what is actually happening.